17 March 2014

Unfinished business

Mental clutter is as hard for me to tolerate as the physical kind, and so I become very stressed if I'm unable to get on top of my 'to do' list. All of those unfinished jobs swirl around in my head, creating an internal mess that is impossible to tidy. 

Writing tasks down, and prioritising them, brings a degree of order, but doesn't reduce my anxiety at tasks being incomplete. Of course, the demands of day-to-day existence inevitably mean that non-urgent correspondence goes unanswered, holiday photos remain unsorted, minor DIY jobs aren't dealt with, and so on.

Sometimes, the tasks are goals that I've set arbitrarily, which are neither essential nor urgent, such as my resolution to refresh my foreign language skills by watching at least one French film a month.

Nevertheless, failure to achieve any aim leaves an 'untidy' feeling in my mind.

One task that had been hanging over me for a very long time was to catch up with my writing magazines: Writers News, Writing Magazine and Mslexia.

Not only do I read these, I also mark up websites or contacts that are worth checking out, along with articles to be torn out wholesale and filed for future reference.

Until recently, I was holding 32 magazines for research and filing to be done. I hadn't actually finished reading the oldest, which dated from October 2009, and hadn't started four of them. The pile would have been even bigger, if I hadn't already cancelled the subscriptions.
Image courtesy of bplanet/

My perfectionist nature led me to hang onto these magazines: I just couldn't get rid of them until I'd completed the tasks I'd set myself. Finally, though, I'd had enough of looking at this constant reminder of my failure; they now reside in the bottom of our flats' communal recycling bin.

I only managed to throw them out after some internal argument and justification, though. I reminded myself that, since marking up items in these magazines, I've changed writing tack - I'm planning to self-publish - so my interests have changed accordingly. Also, a lot of the information would have been out-of-date and could probably be found online if I needed it.

In a way, it was also my perfectionism that provoked me to dispose of them: if I can't do a job properly, I'd rather not do it at all.

The clunk of the magazines hitting the bottom of the bin was very final; the bin is too deep to retrieve anything from it, without triggering a host of contamination issues. 

It was also very liberating. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you can't do everything.


Linda Lewis said...

Well done on throwing the magazines away. I've recently had a major clear out, I had piles of papers meant to lead me to story ideas, but I now see that I don't need them. They were a security blanket. I can find ideas any time, any place. Good luck with the self publishing. I've done this myself and it's not only a doddle, it's fun too.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, Linda, perhaps I can get in touch by email for help with the self-publishing in due course? Throwing things out can certainly be very therapeutic - I've just had a week off and spent much of it catching up with admin and chores and have a huge stack of papers for shredding as a result. All I need now is another week off to relax!

Anonymous said...

I nodded my head through your entire post,Helen, and also have a lot of the same feelings as you. Part of the problem for me, and for a lot of people these days I believe, is the AMOUNT of information at our fingertips. We can't possibly have the time to read all the magazines, newspapers, articles, websites, blogs, books, etc.that we'd like to. It's hard to be realistic and put some things aside, but that's what I've learned to do.

71º & Sunny said...

Oh yes I can certainly relate. I have an all or nothing mentality and I will hold on to special projects too, and if I can't finish them "properly" I tend to toss the whole thing!

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, I agree re the information overload. I yearn for a simpler, less cluttered (mentally and physically) life!

Helen Barbour said...

Sunny, I know what you mean - I have come to realise that I apply an 'all or nothing' approach to many areas of my life.